26 March 2018

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.


I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General on Yemen:  The Secretary‑General strongly condemns the launch late yesterday of a series of missiles claimed by the Houthis toward cities in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh, as he does consistently with all attacks against civilians.  Today marks the third anniversary of the conflict in Yemen.  The Secretary‑General calls for restraint amid mounting tensions and stresses that military escalation is not the solution.  He urges all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure against attack.  After his visit to Riyadh, the Special Envoy is in Sana’a this week to meet with various Yemeni parties.  The Secretary‑General emphasizes that a negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra‑Yemeni dialogue is the only way to end the conflict and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis.


The UN is stepping up its efforts to address the needs of people affected by weeks of ongoing hostilities in Afrin District in north‑west Syria, where ongoing fighting has resulted in death and injury, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and further displacement.  On 25 March, a United Nations‑Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter‑agency convoy to Tal Refaat delivered food, nutrition, health and core relief items for 50,000 people in need who have fled Afrin District in recent weeks.  The team also carried out a needs assessment in Tal Refaat and surrounding areas.  An estimated 183,570 men, women and children are estimated to have been displaced.  The massive influx of displaced people is putting a strain on host communities, which are already overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, nearly 55,000 civilians from eastern Ghouta are currently being hosted in seven collective shelters in rural Damascus.  This is a displaced population that has endured months with limited access to food, medical care or other essential items.  While humanitarians are bravely doing all they can to respond to the needs of people who have been displaced, they also need access to people still trapped inside eastern Ghouta — in Duma in particular, where fighting and besiegement continue.  In this regard, the UN calls on all parties to fully respect international humanitarian and human rights law, to guarantee the protection of all civilians in eastern Ghouta and to ensure immediate humanitarian access to those in need.

**Middle East

This morning, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, and in particular the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016).  He said that while the resolution calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” and to fully respect all its legal obligations in this regard, no such steps were taken during the reporting period.  Mr. Mladenov said that Israel's illegal settlement expansion and related activities continue, further threatening the viability of the two‑State solution and eroding the prospects for peace.  He also warned that violence and incitement continue to fuel hatred, division, distrust and fear.  Continuing terror attacks on Israelis and the attempt on the life of the Palestinian Prime Minister illustrate the growing risk of destabilization and the empowerment of radicals and extremists, he said.  He added that the use of force by Israel must be calibrated.  He also called on Palestinian factions to engage earnestly with Egypt and move forward on the implementation of the Cairo Agreement.  Mr. Mladenov said he remains greatly concerned by the state of our collective efforts to advance peace.  Long‑held international consensus positions on final status issues, including on Jerusalem and refugees, and United Nations principles, must remain the guiding framework of a negotiated process towards the ultimate goal of a two‑State solution, he said, adding that any deviation from these principles would be dangerous.


Over the weekend, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) strongly condemned the attack that killed at least 15 civilians and injured more than 40 people who were leaving a sports match in the province of Helmand.  The head of the UN Mission, Tadamichi Yamamoto, called the attack morally reprehensible and said that incidents like these must not deter our collective resolve to make progress on ending the conflict.  Mr. Yamamoto added that the United Nations stands with Afghans in solidarity and remains committed to an Afghan‑led peace process that will end the war and enable Afghanistan to allocate more resources to protect all citizens from such atrocities.

**Papua New Guinea

Our humanitarian colleagues express concern today about a new strong earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea over the weekend.  This comes after last month’s earthquake which left an estimated 270,000 people in need of assistance.  The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund has released over $9 million in funding to provide for the immediate needs of those affected.


This morning, the UN International Dialogue on Migration kicked off here at Headquarters.  Over the next two days, the Dialogue will focus on the topic of inclusive and innovative partnerships for effective global governance of migration.  The Dialogue is in support of the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration and counts on the participation of Member States, civil society, migrants’ groups and experts.  You can watch it on our webcast page.


Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) launched today the “Road and Market Access and Household Food Security in Nepal” report, which aims to raise awareness on the impact of improved road and trail infrastructure on household food security in that country.  This study found that improved infrastructure, including rural roads, trails and bridges, can serve to unlock different livelihood opportunities, and improve food security for remote mountain communities.  Moreover, the study found that in areas where people were able to access markets more quickly and easily, households spent more money on non‑staple foods, and had more diverse and nutritious diets, reducing the likelihood of stunting among children.  More on this is available on WFP’s website.


Stéphane [Dujarric] was asked some procurement questions last Friday.  I can say that the requirement for unmanned aerial services was the subject of a request for proposals ‑ or “RFP”.  Under RFP exercises, the Organization may award a contract to the proposer offering the best value for money.  This requires an evaluation of both the technical and financial offers of each proposer.  The lowest bidder, therefore, will not necessarily be successful.  In the MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] exercise, there was no “declared winner”.  One of the proposers, whose financial proposal was the lowest, had been issued a “notice of consideration of award”.  The award was subject to successful contract negotiations.  Unfortunately, no contract was concluded because the UN technical experts rescinded the original technical evaluation of this vendor after learning of information which rendered the technical proposal non‑compliant.  Any suggestion of an intention to enter into “sole source” negotiations is not correct.

**Honour Roll

And for the Honour Roll:  today South Africa is joining the Honour Roll, becoming the sixty‑ninth Member State to pay its regular budget dues in full.  After I am done, we will have Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  Any questions for me before we go to him?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can I ask you about the expulsion of Russian diplomats by the US?  Does the UN believe that this in any way violates the US’ agreement with the UN of 1947, the Host Country Agreement?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We have seen the announcement by the United States Government of its decision to take action against the certain diplomats of the Russian Federation in the United States.  I can confirm that the United States Mission to the United Nations informed the Secretariat of its decision to take action under Section 13(b) of the UN‑US Headquarters Agreement with respect to certain members of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations.  This action may require those members to leave the country.  Given the sensitivity of the matter, which is ongoing, we will not comment further at this stage other than to confirm that the Secretary‑General will closely follow this matter and engage as appropriate with the Governments concerned.

Question:  One follow‑up.  Does the… do… does the United States need to provide evidence of this espionage to the UN and to Russia?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've said what I can say at this stage.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want… I have other stuff, but I wanted… on the answer that you're reading to what I asked on Friday, my question, I guess, is this.  Is… is… the… the… number one, the low bidder says that… that they were subjected after they were deemed to be the low bidder, if not awarded the contract, to additional checks that the previous winners had not been subjected to, namely, Leonardo and Thales.  The main question… you seem… maybe sole source is the wrong word.  I've been informed that Mr. [Dmitri] Dovgopoly has sought permission from Mr.  Christian Sau… Mr.… excuse… Mr. Saunders to inform the… the losing bidders or the higher bidders of exactly how much money the UN has to pay for this service, basically instructing them on how to submit a winning bid so there can be done by… by November.  And it seems… that seems wasteful.  Beyond whatever the rights of the… of the initially low bidder was, it doesn't seem to… way to… to conduct procurement is if you're holding a bidding one to say here's how much money we have; tell us how you can spend it.  So, I guess I… I don't know if you're… maybe you're reading a statement, and I wish it could have been sent to me so I could have… could have narrowed down the issue.  But it… there seems to be irregularities in the procurement of these drones and… and the main question being, why is the low bidder in this case being subjected to tests that others weren't submitted to?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding what you said, like I said, the offer had been rescinded after we learned of information which rendered the technical proposal noncompliant.  And, regarding the process, this is a process that involves procurement and our Office for Legal Affairs, who have both reviewed this matter.

Question:  And are they informing the bidders of how much money there is for them to bid for the full amount, then?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is as much as I'll say about that procurement process at this stage.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I will try another follow‑up on James' question.  US Mission to the UN put out a statement this morning explaining its decision of expulsion of diplomats, and US Mission says that — and I quote — “our actions are consistent with the United Nations Headquarters Agreement”.  Do you agree with this statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I said, we were informed of the US decision to take action under Section 13(b) of the UN‑US Headquarters Agreement.  You can look in our Treaty Section and read Section 13(b) for yourself and evaluate it for yourself.  Yes.  Yes, please?

Question:  Can you say when you were informed by the US?

Deputy Spokesman:  Earlier… early this morning, yes.  Yes?

Question:  A follow‑up question.  So, does US see the US allegation of the… the 12 Russian diplomats in the UN Russian Mission to the United Nations doing the espionage or some activities?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you back to what I just said on this matter, which I believe answers that.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Were… was the UN provided with names of those diplomats?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any further details to provide to you, but we were informed of the decision this morning, like I said.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry, Farhan.  You told us to read 13(b) and see whether… what we thought it said.  What does the Secretary‑General think?  Does he think that… that… that the agreement has been breached, that… that 13(b)… action under 13(b) is justified or not, or… or will he be asking for more evidence?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I wouldn't have… for the reasons I just explained, I wouldn't venture an opinion on that.  For… just for… out of sheer niceness and convenience to you, I will read to you Section 13(b) at this stage.  Bear with me, because it is long.  “Laws and regulations in force in the United States regarding the residence of aliens shall not be applied in such manner as to interfere with the privileges referred to Section 11 and, specifically, shall not be applied in such manner as to require any such person to leave the United States on account of any activities performed by him in his official capacity.  In case of abuse of such privileges of residence by any such person in activities in the United States outside his official capacity, it is understood that the privileges referred to in Section 11 shall not be construed to grant him exemption from the laws and regulations of the United States regarding the continued residence of aliens, provided that:  (1) No proceedings shall be instituted under such laws or regulations to require any such person to leave the United States except with the prior approval of the Secretary of State of the United States.  Such approval shall be given only after consultation with the appropriate Member in the case of a representative of a Member (or a member of his family) or with the Secretary‑General or the principal executive officer of the appropriate specialized agency in the case of any other person referred to in Section 11.”  Actually, there's so much more of this that I think… it goes on from there but there are many subsections, but I will stop there.  Yes.  Yes?

Question:  Surprise:  also, on the agreement, I'm not asking you to quote again, but, according to the agreement, US just should notify the UN and then the diplomats can be expelled, or UN should answer, provide any comments, or UN just has to be notified and that's it?

Deputy Spokesman:  I… for the reasons I've explained at the start, I'd have no further comment while this matter is ongoing.

Question:  No, but that's just a question on the regular basis, how this works, not related to Russia, just this 13(b) and 11… the Section 11.

Deputy Spokesman:  I could just… I'll refer you to the language of the treaty itself, so you can see for yourself what it says.  But I'm not going to venture our views on any of this.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  On this Houthi attack supposedly against the… in… in Saudi Arabia, has that been considered as a… as a crime against humanity, or have you made a statement to that effect?

Deputy Spokesman:  We put out a statement about this missile attack at the start of the briefing.  It's also available online and in your emails.

Question:  So, what about… what happens… follow‑up is, what about what the Saudi coalition is doing in Yemen?  Is that a crime against humanity or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've already expressed what our concerns are about this, and I'd just refer you to our past statements concerning this.  The bottom line for us, again, is the need for negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra‑Yemeni dialogue.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Just one more.  On the… on the expulsion of diplomats, you didn't finish reading the thing, but I guess I just wonder, is there any… who determines… it obviously… who determines whether these activities were outside of the scope of their authorized activities?  Is it solely the host country?  Is there no review of it?  What's your understanding of how a host country could not just abuse it and say, whatever I'm accusing you of is outside of the scope?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, to repeat what I said earlier, given the sensitivity of the matter, which is ongoing, we will not comment further at this stage, other than to confirm that the Secretary‑General will closely follow this matter and engage as appropriate with the Governments concerned.

Question:  And on Yemen, has Mr. Martin Griffiths taken any action since these reported firings?  Has he met with anyone, called anyone?

Deputy Spokesman:  As the statement made clear, he has visited Riyadh in recent days, and then he will be in Sana'a this week to meet with various Yemeni parties.  So, he is continuing to talk with all the various interlocutors.  Yes.  Yes, please?

Question:  The latest part of your… of the statement that you just read, has SG already engaged with one of the parties, whether Russia or the US?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not going to say anything further now.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Farhan.  About this… these children in… Palestinian children incarceration with the… by the Israeli authorities, is that… has there been any conversation between the United Nations and the Israeli authorities to release them or to — what do you call — charge them?  Because they are… they just hold them there and… until they're of that age that detain them and then they charge them.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we're against the idea of holding children on remand, so we've repeatedly asked for the children either to be charged promptly or to be released.  So, that is something we've made clear.  And, as you may be aware, Mr. Mladenov briefed the Security Council on the overall situation just this morning.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, on… on the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], they're now… it seems like the Government there is… is saying that it's not going to attend the… the aid conference in April that was promoted from… from this podium by the WFP guy in… in DRC.  What's the UN… is the UN trying to… to make sure that, one, they attend and, two, that they either accept the aid or that the aid somehow reaches the people in the DRC?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the press reports, but the authorities continue to work closely with us on planning the important event and have not signalled in any official correspondence that they would decline to participate.  The UN and our humanitarian partners have a good working relationship with authorities, which is underpinned by a continuous dialogue focused on both needs and solutions.

Question:  What… the Deputy, when she was in… I have a question of what she accomplished in Abuja, but I wanted to ask, when she was in Liberia, there's a… a, at least there, widely reported incident in which President [George] Weah specifically singled out a journalist and said, you've undermined the peace process.  And the journalist raised a lot of issues about it, and their… their press freedom organizations have written about it.  Since Amina J. Mohammed was on the podium when this took place, does she have any response, or can you, in the same way you did on procurement, seek some response to her to the targeting of a journalist directly in front of her?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the bottom line is that we want to make sure that all media are accorded their basic rights and their freedom to do their work without any harassment.

Question:  But what was her actual response to something that happened actually right in front of her rather than a generalized statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is where I stand, and we always make clear to all our interlocutors the need to respect press freedoms.

Question:  Did she do anything about this incident?  I'm asking… that's what I'm asking about.

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, this is where we stand on that.

Question:  And… and… I guess my question is this.  When she went to… to Abuja for the two days before she went to the Czech Republic, did the issue… I saw that she actually tweeted how she's concerned about UN staff being detained and that's… without reason.  The 47 individuals that were refouled from Nigeria to Cameroon and haven't been seen since, was this issue raised?  Did she have any headway on it?

Deputy Spokesman:  She did raise the issue of the situation of the… in Anglophone Cameroon more generally with her interlocutors.  So she has raised that while she was in Nigeria.  [The Deputy Spokesman subsequently put out a note concerning the Deputy Secretary‑General’s meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria.]  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  Until… until Kofi Annan's term, there was a Special Envoy for North Korea, and that… since then, it has gone.  Is there any chance that the Secretary‑General will appoint a new Special Envoy for North Korea now that the South and North Korea are talking and that there is threatening war or now that…?

Deputy Spokesman:  If we have anything to say about an appointment, we'll let you know at that point.  Yes?

Question:  On cholera in Haiti or brought to Haiti by the UN, there was a provision in the omnibus budget just passed in the US for $10 million to go to be devoted to projects in Haiti for victims or survivors of the cholera.  And I wondered, has… is this going to be through the UN or not through the UN?  Does Josette… does [Special Envoy for Haiti] Ms. Sheeran, who has yet to have a press conference here, have any comment on how close the UN is coming to the $400 million that had been projected for these victims of UN cholera in Haiti?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding how that money is spent, you'd need to ask the United States how… where it's… how it sends its money.  Of course, we appreciate any contributions that will help to alleviate cholera in Haiti.  Come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.